This whole voyage has been a leap of faith, a calculated leap in many regards, but a monumental jump, no less. Aside from resting our trust in each other and Red Thread, we’ve also placed immense faith in our individual capacity to land on our feet professionally on the other side of the globe—in a new city, in new country, on a new continent—where neither of us have ever been, nor have prospects. Today really jarred my confidence. -Jessie
Trembling hands journaled those words after the interview I had been offered en route to Niue had not gone as anticipated. We had managed to source a SIM card for our old cell phone in the tiny down of Alofi, and I joined the call dressed in interview attire from Red Thread’s cockpit, hellbent on looking the part and ensuring the best reception possible. Before the interview had a chance to begin, I was informed that the position had been offered to another applicant.
My rib cage swelled, as I wailed in silent disappointment; externally, I feigned that I was not gutted. I gritted my teeth, blinked back tears, and steadied my voice. How pleased I was to learn more about the university and the department I had no hope of joining! They surely had a handful of shortlisted candidates, one of whom almost certainly had an offer from a competing university that accelerated their decision-making. I told myself that these were factors beyond my purview or control. Still, if I had at least been able to complete the interview—to dust off the cobwebs of the academic part of me—the time would have been well spent, even if I did not ultimately get the job.
The call ended.
The silence of the still air and flat seas was deafening.
Neil had gone for a snorkel with Richard from s/v Sarita. I was alone. Overcome with frustration and worry for my professional future, I immediately forgot most of the conversation, too overcome with emotion to encode the details. I scrambled into our dinghy and rowed my tear-stained cheeks for s/v Sarita’s stern a few boat lengths away. Jude and Katya comforted me with wine, kind words, and commiseration about my disillusionment.
Here I was a week later in the murk of a moonless night on passage toward Tonga, alone again, and ruminating still…Sea musings
The air has a nip of chill in it that reminds me of impending autumn back home, not at all like the awakening of spring, which it is here in the southern hemisphere. The sky which has been shrouded in gray for days is a crisp blue dotted with high puffy clouds that threaten only our chances of seeing the fabled “green flash.” Eighteen knots of breeze blows strands of hair from my frizzy French braid that tickle my nose.
Each time we set to sea, I feel a wave of calm and peace wash over me. Muscles around my eyes relax, freeing my face of creases that remind me that I am now well beyond my 20s. I find myself wondering how I will cope with being on land again on the other side of this ocean crossing, living with absolute uncertainty of when we will set to sea again. Cradled by the ocean, I can lose myself in these thoughts.
Out here, our greatest stressors are borne of temperamental weather conditions or impending repairs, and our wellbeing is contingent on our effectiveness as a team. It feels a bit ironic that an experience that demands we focus on our basic needs—rest to ensure sharp thinking and physicality, food to fuel our energy, care to ensure our boat’s seaworthiness, and weather conditions to inform our routing—would compel me to ponder aspects of myself and the world of a far more existential nature. We departed Panama aboard this ship with one-way tickets; if we do manage to achieve our goal of getting jobs by the time we reach Australia, a whole new assortment of pressures will become reality once more.
Losing days and counting years
Thirty-six hours into our passage, we teleported from the 22nd of August to the 24th in the midst of a lightning storm, crossing the International Date Line. Neil’s hands were on the helm, as we skipped our dear friend Mark’s birthday and arrived at our third wedding anniversary. Having spent dozens of hours mired in existential contemplation, it was fitting that we should sacrifice an entire day on this particular passage. A reminder, perhaps, to embrace each fleeting moment, but not to cling insufferably to any. As a general rule, I fail miserably at the latter.Land ho!
Indigo and rose wash the outlines of the clouds that span the eastern sky. I always get the dawn watch; seeing bookends of each day’s light nourishes my soul. Winds blowing from the Southern Ocean plunged temperatures into the upper 60s (Fahrenheit) overnight. Yoga pants were tugged over thermal underwear and a base layer thermal top was hidden beneath a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and my foulie jacket (hood up), with a buff to veil the lower half of my face. One sock (its mate having gone missing) and a pair of wool slippers completed my night-watch costume. The warmth of good morning sunshine beckons me to peel away layers.
A good passage is one in which nothing breaks, the squalls are few, the fishing is good, and the engine is silent. This passage was indeed good.
King Neptune had been most generous, offering two fish at the same moment on either of our hooks. Three inches longer than our dorado last passage and our second largest fish ever (second only to the infamous barracuda), we landed a 43-inch bull dorado just hours out of Niue. Twenty-two pounds of divinity. On our second hook, we had a stunning 23-inch yellowfin tuna. The closer we get to completing this ocean voyage, the more grateful I feel for the gifts of the ocean. We fish for subsistence, keeping only what we can eat, and do our best to sacrifice each animal with respect and expedience. If we catch a larger fish than we need, we share it. During the very rare instances in which a fillet spoils, we return it to the sea where some denizen of the deep will gobble it up.We turned over our engine as we began to navigate Faihava Pass toward the town of Neiafu. We had sailed off our mooring in Niue and hadn’t started our engine in weeks. The tickle of excitement for our impending arrival warmed our bellies. We toasted our safe passage and third wedding anniversary with steaming cups of coffee and bacon as we motored past hulking, vertical islands into a labyrinth of Polynesian beauty: The Kingdom of Tonga’s Vava’u Islands
Point of departure: Alofi, Niue – 08/21/16
Point of arrival: Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga – 08/24/16
Distance traveled: 268 nautical miles
Fastest 24 hours: 149 nautical miles
Slowest 24 hours: 119 nautical miles
Total time: 47 hours (1 day, 23 hours)
Engine roaring: 3 hours
Sails soaring: 44 hours (94%)
Average speed: 5.7 knots
Jessie’s musings: We sailed off our mooring leaving behind lovely Niue amid a large pod of dolphins and into a passage with better sea conditions than we expected. Much to our delight, David and Amy from s/v Starry Horizons later shared footage of us departing, which captured the beauty of the Red Thread amid the mooring field that we hadn’t been able to capture ourselves. Aside from those sweet moments, my greatest recollections are of my own tangled emotions… Oh, and that our solar regulator, feared drowned in Niue, was resurrected after 36 hours in a bag of rice. Hallelujah!
Neil’s reflections: Being away from family and friends means that we often miss important milestones with them, and this passage was no different. The good news is that I was able to contact my mom via our satellite phone and wish her a happy birthday and tell her about the new whale we helped discover during our time with Fiafia in Niue and named Kaga, after her and Jessie’s mom. In retrospect it’s interesting that the sat phone was purchased as a safety and risk mitigation tool and instead the only minutes we used were to call and sing happy birthday to loved ones or once to order a spare part from the USA. Sign of a good voyage? This passage was indeed a fabulous and short one; however, the lightning squalls that we sailed through on the eastern side of the Vava’u Group in the middle of the night were, as always, nerve-racking, and required careful hand steering due to the shifting winds and nearness to land.